Archive | April, 2012

When two roads converged in a wood, I took the Allelopath

18 Apr

Allelopathy, I discovered yesterday—is the effect one species has upon the growth, survival and reproduction of another species by chemical, biological or ecological processes. For instance, a tree that grows to be tall and wide benefits the humans beneath it by providing shade where they may have a picnic, make sweet love and carve their initials into the pliable bark marking the first moment of their life-long commitment to benefit each other and their future children. The same tree does not allow any other species to thrive beneath it because of the very shade that benefits the humans.

I also discovered that plants aren’t the only ones with allelopathic tendencies.

It was a typical Tuesday morning eradication session at the Leon Creek Greenway where the Invaders volunteer their time to eradicate non-native invasive species. Ie. Kill things, record how and when they were killed, pinpoint a GPS location of the slaying and record it in a national database. It’s satisfying work because you can see the difference you are making in a landscape right away. Where once there was a mono-culture of invasive species, you can see the potential for new native growth almost immediately. Kind of like getting a haircut: It always makes you feel better about your future somehow.

This day was going along par for the course. I had my first kill and a fat one at that—around six inches in diameter. I had to use my Gomboy or folding handsaw. Felt good to get a big one under my belt first thing. I called out my count and the code for loathed Chinaberry Tree. Most of the trees we eradicated that morning were big Chinas. We had a crew of about 10 and it only took two to do the work of even the biggest tree. So the rest of us just sort of milled about watching or looking for our own pre-flagged specimen to fell.

I’ve been on several of these expeditions before but this one was different in so many ways, it really made me stop and think. The work we did at Rancho Diana seemed much more unobtrusive. We weren’t felling large trees but we were pulling, chopping and spraying hundreds of Nandina every week. There was the “Nandina Forest” where the bamboo-like plant had taken over an entire area of underbrush. That week I learned how to identify Nandia in every  stage of life from a newly formed sprig to a mature bush with berries. Somehow it seemed not only physically easier to hand-pluck the babies from the lush fertile forest floor but cognitively, I didn’t suffer other decisions. Like, which weapon to most effectively destroy the thing. I didn’t have to spend a lot of time with the same plant sawing or even break a sweat. All I had to do was seek, identify and destroy. Now look out honey, ’cause I’m usin’ tech-knowledgey…Somebody come and help me please…Somebody better save my soul! Wha? Oh, sorry Iggy Pop sideline. Happens every time.

So, the other thing is that something gets me out there in the civilized wild. A trail runs through it, but nature remains in control. Very early in our first effort to girdle a hug-sized Ligustrum we were verbally accosted by a few well-intentioned tree evangelists who proclaimed us “black-hearted sinners” for our defiant act of ecological restoration.

Black hearted sinners forever

Black hearted sinners forever

“We’re all invasive species!” She exclaimed passionately.

I see her point. So who decides?

If nature or her G-d for that matter saw fit for this plant to grow and thrive who are we to destroy it?

My rebuttle was weak. “But it will KILL all the other plants.”

Interesting perspective. Not true though.

It in fact, does nothing actively to kill anything. It only exists for the sole-purpose of existing.

Sure, its leaves drop and make the soil beneath it more alkaline insuring its own survival and the survival of other plants whose tastes agree. Sure, its canopy is large and dense to the detriment of many beneath it, earning it its nickname The Umbrella Tree. Sure, its prolific berries fall and turn to seeds and take their turns growing where they are unsurreptitiously planted. But if blame is due, it might just as well rest on the wings of that ill-fated bird who eats—gorges itself actually—becomes drunk on the toxic berries, flies downstream and deposits the seed at the mouth of another river where Chinaberry has never grown before and then dies. But not before making another even less desirable deposit of bloody seed encrusted feces on your freshly washed but unfortunately unwaxed clear coat instantly lowering your resale value.

Ultimately, we are the ones responsible for introducing the plant here in the first place. It’s a beautiful tree. Resilient. Hardy. Fast growing. Deciduous and flowering; it provides a brilliant if not common display of something in every season. It only becomes ugly when you see it choke out every other species or block a river from flowing freely. If you never saw a snake strike, you could assume it had no fangs. In these woods, the Chinaberry are sparse but large. They aren’t showing their fangs here. But as anyone who has ever been bitten by a snake knows: Size does matter.

Somewhere downstream or over the next hill or around the far bend the effects of these and several other non-native invasives that you can buy and are often touted as best use landscaping plants because of their tolerance for neglect and extreme weather. And that’s our justification for killing. G-d save our black-hearted souls! Funny thing though, they always seem to sprout back up in threes for each  individual we take down to a stump. Some say it’s a futile effort. We call it job security.

Makes ya kinda wonder though, doesn’t it.

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Sitting for the Master

14 Apr

Sometimes a painting is just a painting. Sometimes it’s more. Sometimes it speaks when you stop long enough to listen. Sometimes you recognize it in a crowd of strangers as a potential friend. Sometimes you meet and sit and after a while you realize you’ve found a life-long connection. That’s how it was with The Turnip and me.

The Turnip

The Turnip by  Seth Camm 

And that’s how it was sitting for Seth among the titanic greek columns of Mr. Santikos’ Palladium Theater/Bar where he is showing his art work and painting in the forward-thinking gallery spawned by the success of The Wonderland of America’s Bijou Theater, where his fiancée Rebecca Coffey is showing her art to movie goers who may or may not be intentionally seeking more from their entertainment than Hollywood has to offer. Can we just go to the movie now? Not yet, I’m still looking!

So, tell me how this works. What do I do?

Just sit there and look pretty.

Can I move? Look around?

Well, you can but not too fast or it’ll turn out blurry.

Hm. Easiest job I’ve done all week. Sure beats cleaning poo and rat guts on the snake farm.

But staring at the faces of the ones who came before, I somehow felt unworthy. Still I was giddy. At home now, I’m certain I was wearing that “shit eating grin” my dad used to call the look my face when they fought. The one I put on when they inevitably said, “Wipe that smile off your face.” The one that turned itself down at the edges so even though I felt like I was smiling, it didn’t offend anyone because I appeared to be just as unhappy as they were.

Break time!

And the first time I’ve ever seen what someone else sees when they see me.

Wow is all I can say. I know. I’m supposed to be a writer and all I’ve got is wow. To be fair, I’m in awe of this person before me. Of his talent. Of his grace. Of the way his eyes translate the world outside him to his hands in that esoteric language known only to trained artisans who practice attaining nothing less than perfection on a daily basis. Who continue with the daunting, joyful task of living and creating new things in absolute faith every single day of their lives for the pure joy of it. Because life would not be worth living without it and despite the fact that though they may reach seemingly unattainable heights they may be the only ones who recognize it and that has to be reward enough.

Can I get you anything?

A shot-gun, a twelve pack and a passing buffalo.

Would you settle for some chocolate?

I’m going to turn you blue now.

But wait! I’ve been blue for so long. I want to be a different color now. I want to wipe that shit eating grin off my face and glow.

I didn’t bring enough white to finish.

But I’m ready! I’m ready for my face to reflect how I feel inside. How rich, happy, loved and secure I am all by myself though it may not seem like it because I’m talking my head off like a teenager on three-way. I want to shine like the women on the wall. But are they really happy or does the master see something in all of us no one else can?

Someone enters the space. Someone who looks quite comfortable looking at art and in her own skin. Someone who doesn’t wait to be invited, is first to offer a smile and says, “I like your light.” Someone who means what she says in every way possible.

It was the best compliment I had ever heard given to an artist. It was a compliment not only to his work and his talent but his existence. Because the master uses light, needs light, reflects light and is light.

It may make a nice underpainting for something in the future.

In the shadowy outline on his canvas, I saw so much in me—so much potential for a finished piece. So much potential for a finished person—though we are all a work in progress. It was definitely me, or at the very least the me the people passing by could see as their eyes widened in disbelief. It reminded me of that fresh feeling you get when you step out of the shower and see yourself for the first time in the steamy mirror. You can’t see it yet, but you know you’re under there and all you have to do is sweep your hand across the cool glass to reveal it.

So many feelings in a glance. I had to look away. It was too beautiful. I practically ran outside to text everyone I know how awesome it was to be sitting for the master. The truth is I was afraid to see what he saw. I covered it up with small talk and giggles and he knew it too.

I lost the likeness of you.

I’m going down a path here that’s getting a bit steep, but sitting for the master always is isn’t it.

At home now, I realize I was afraid to see my own potential. But in that light, I felt that someday when I’m brave enough, I’ll look myself in the eyes and allow him to show me the beauty he sees. Until that day, I’m quite comfortable practicing my own perfection faithfully in perpetuity. I will continue with the daunting, joyful task of living and creating new things in absolute faith every single day of my life for the pure joy of it. Because life would not be worth living without it and despite the fact that though I may reach seemingly unattainable heights I may be the only one who recognizes it and that has to be reward enough.

Thanks for sitting for me tonight.

No thank you. It was an honor.

Pretty Cool Feeling

12 Apr

Waking up to a brand new day

Taking the time to revel in it

Stretching out your thoughts

As far and wide as you can reach

    Expanding

Bringing it all back in

Accepting

    Understanding

Knowing

    Trusting

Starting again

Counting your blessings

Taking control

    Giving it up

Letting it ride

    Keeping it cool

Embracing the throttle

Rolling it all the way back in

Swiftly or slowly

Hearing

Sensing

Seeing the road stretch out before you

As far and wide as you want to go

Reeling it all back in beneath the seat of your consciousness

Practicing

    Believing

Stopping

    Owning

Turning

    Changing

But always

Moving forward

Yep.

Pretty cool feeling!

An idiom by any other name would smell as sweet

11 Apr
Bluebonnets in spring

Nature abhors a vacuum

The juxtaposition of rock, decaying mulch and vibrant new plant life drew me to this area of the backyard very near where target practice is held. Every evening as the sun finally drops behind the wooden slatted fence, rays of light leak through and illuminate things I’ve never seen before. Things that are there every day but go unseen by anyone until I take a picture and share it. There is nothing else in this bed but more decaying mulch, a few empty pots and a fallen ornamental peacock. His pride prevented him from inclusion. I walk past this rock 16 times to the target after I shoot and 16 times when I return with my arrows. I walk past it 32 times a day, 224 times per week and 960 times per month and every day I see something new.

Mother’s jewels

The bluebonnet flowers have since been provided with rain and sprouted. The tiny droplets of water they caught more precious than diamonds. It’s the only plant I know of that holds water like the Star of India holds light. Their beauty too wild to confine to one garden; they’ve taken over the entire side of the back yard leaving me only a footpath to my target.  A path I’ve walked so many times the flowers learned to bloom around it, up to my knees though I never trampled them. Strange the other side of the yard is completely barren but for the weeds.

Enlightenment: That awkward moment you realize your kid knows more than you because you taught him.

10 Apr

Living the dream

10 Apr

So, I know this guy and whenever you ask him what he’s up to, he says: “Livin’ the dream.” And he smiles this sardonic, sarcastic smile that reminds me of the scar tissue on a bleeding ulcer. But it’s true for him. He is living the dream of the typical American – work hard, make tons of cash and save, save, SAVE for retirement. Except he works so hard at working that he has zero time for a home life where things continuously and predictably fall into disrepair. He works so hard at working he has no time to eat or exercise so his body falls into disuse and disease. He works so hard at working that his family sub-conciously creates disaster crisis scenarios for him to fix because that’s the only time he responds to their pleas for attention. And every day is a crisis because the guy is a genuinely good guy and people want him in their lives.

He thinks himself different than most because he practices austerity. He fixes things. He knows how to cook a good, healthy meal for his family and he does so on all the very special occasions or very nearly. He buys things with cash. He has no desire to wear the latest trends or sport the newest ride. But he’s no different from anyone who ever mouthed the words, “I need to be financially stable to feel secure.”

What does that mean exactly? For me, it means cutting my expenses to the point where I know I can get a job anywhere, anytime to meet them and gaining the experience to do whatever job might come my way. To him it means $300k a year. To you it might mean, $56k but the fact remains you’re putting a numeric value on security. Security which by every standard of American living in the last century was all but guaranteed to you if you “worked hard”.

So what is working hard?

Action is what we take when being is taken for granted.

6 Apr